Schubart Park residents take action
Saturday 22 January 2011 by Nic
On the 31st December 2010, Schubart Park residents took to the streets to show their discontent about services that were denied by the municipality of Tshwane. This made headline news of all the radio stations and later during the evening, TV news. It was a well calculated move by the residents as what led to the protest was anticipated because it is the plan of the city of Tshwane to attack the complex during the festive holidays. They underestimated the community in terms of protecting the residence during this period. They took a wild, dangerous and myopic decision to destabilize the residents during this time so as to unsettle them with a view of evicting them during the process.
WHAT LED TO THE PROTEST
Schubart Park is situated at the heart of the City of Tshwane, which is the capital city of South Africa. With the water infrastructure running all sides of the complex, it is ironic that we spend more than three weeks without water. All the attempts to get the department of Human settlement and water affairs to deal with the problem were futile. To compound the problem, on the 28th December 2010, the City of Tshwane decided unilaterally to switch off the power supply to the complex. This was done under the guise of draining water and fixing the power infrastructure next to the electric bars. The irony to this was that the residents did not have water in their units but there was water that was posing danger to the electricity infrastructure.
There has been a problem with the service delivery in this complex. The first being that if there is no electricity there is obviously no water because the water pumps uses electricity to pump water into the tanks to supply the units. Since there are no working lifts, residents are expected to fetch water on the ground floor and climb steps until the 22nd floor in order to flush their toilets. People are compelled to use the same water that other people used to bath because it is very difficult to get water from the ground floor because of long queue.
The second issue is that in the absence of electricity the complex becomes very dark and in darkness a lot of evil things happen. The authorities wish is that there should be a lot of crime in the complex so they can convince the court that the place is harboring criminals and is not suitable for human habitation. This happens after 16 years of democracy. We are expected to use paraffin for cooking and warming water for bathing. The usage of paraffin has got its dangers as well. One of the units caught fire due to lack of power in the complex and the residents were lucky to escape unhurt. What if people died there? The answer is that , the city would have pretended that they were deeply hurt, knowing very well that that is not the case.
After electricity was switched off the city refused to reconnect, citing safety issues. After two days, the residents committee convened a mass meeting of the residents to discuss the way forward and also to explain the obstacles we came across in trying to restore power to the complex.
The municipality realized that there was a meeting in progress and the MMC for Human Settlement called the chairperson of the committee to reassure him that, electricity will be restored the following day. This was an attempt by the city to disturb the planning of a mass protest, because this telephone conversation took place while the community meeting was in progress.
The community was not fooled by the lies of the MMC but went ahead with the planning of an action. The city underestimated the plans as we know that they knew that action was going to be taken as some of the informers of the city were present. That is the reason they knew in the first place that there was such a meeting.
An ultimatum was given by the residents to the city to either restore power or face a revolt the following day. The deadline was 06:30 on the 31st December 2010. At 06:45 the community was already on the ground floor willing to take action. When about half of the community was available, we divided ourselves into units so that strategic positions could be manned. Some went to the streets to barricade and burn tyres a sign of discontent. Streets that are the main entrance to the city were barricaded, meaning that town was not easily accessible.
The police responded by shooting rubber bullets without asking what the problem was. The level of violence and the brutality by which the police responded showed us that we are dealing with a repressive state that was not accommodative and approachable to deal with the issues and listen to the complaints of the people. Protesters were shot with rubber bullets at close range without impunity and the people retaliated by throwing stones at the police to push them back from entering the complex. The police called for reinforcement but that did not help deal with the angry community.
At 11:30 the cluster commander of the SAPS came out of his shell to try and deal with the problem. The amazing thing was why should the police chief be the one to come and deal with the problems where as the entire municipality leadership was all available at the scene? The answer is that they were all afraid to deal with the masses because they knew that they will have to account for their actions. We as the residents of Schubart Park are not respected and this has been demonstrated by the manner in which our problems are handled by our local government.
The action that took place on the 31st is reminiscent of the activity of the 25th December 2008, on Christmas day when we battled with the police over the same issues of water and electricity. So history repeats itself.
At last the cluster commander managed to get the committee of the complex together to discuss the way forward as he could see that fighting the residents would not yield pleasant result because the community was getting angrier with each and every rubber bullet that was fired. This kind of militancy resulted in some of the city’s officials saying that the residents were under the drug influence. We managed to explain our situation to the police commander and eventually the leaders of the city who happens to be ANC members were forced to resolve the situation. The MMC struggled to get hold of the contractor that was suppose to come and fix the problem, and this meant that there was no arrangement to fix the problem prior to the action.
The community vowed to continue with the action if the problem was not resolved on time. Power was restored at 5pm, much to the delight of the residents who started to prepare for welcoming the New Year.
OBJECTIVES OF THE SHCUBART PARK COMMITTEE
The community is diverse and consists of South Africans and non South African residents. What is interesting about the community is that there has never been an issue of Xenophobia. As a community we believe that South Africa belongs to all who lives in it. Corruption and Gear are the ones that robbed all of us of service delivery that is adequate and therefore we should come together to bring the system down. When there is protest action every one comes and joins even though there will be those that will not take part and this also includes our South African brothers and sisters. In terms of the Xenophobia issues, credit should be given to the committee as they played a pivotal role in denouncing Xenophobia. This can also be attributed to fact that the community is affiliated to the APF (Anti-privatization Forum) which is against Xenophobia. The APF and Khanya College played a pivotal role in shaping the leadership of the Schubart Park community.
The community put in place a programme of defeating Capitalism. The programme is as follows.
To collapse the system of rental payment
Force municipality to refurbish the buildings
Demand through mass action to be allocated the units as part of the RDP.
Force the authorities to provide basic services free of charge.
Stop evictions by all means. The municipality should also make sure that they reduce unemployment as this is a thorn in the community.
LISTENING THROUGH THE EYES
The city of Tshwane understands only one language and that is action. We had face to face meetings with the department of Human Settlement, including the MMC in an attempt to resolve the water and electricity crisis in Schubart Park but nothing came out of it. We marched to the Mayors office to hand over memorandums previously, but were disregarded. The city tries by all means not to respond to any demands that come from our complex.
THIS REPORT WAS COMPILED BY THE ORGANISER OF SCHUBART PARK – MASHAO CHAUKE
This author's articles
- Schubart Park Residents - ’You touch an immigrant, you touch a community’
- March for Housing, 25 June
- In solidarity with Stallion Security officers fired from World Cup jobs
- The soccer World Cup is here but the poor continue to ‘feel’ hardship
- Statement of support and solidarity with SAMWU strike
- Schubart Park Residents Committee